A Sent People – Part 2: Travel Lightly

This is part two of a 5-part devotional series based on Luke 10:1-12 (See part one) It includes the reading of Scripture, considering its teaching, asking questions of ourselves for reflection, and applying it in practical ways. Enjoy.


Part 2: Travel Lightly

Passage: Luke 10:4

“Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.”

A Sent People - Part 2_ Travel Lightly

Consider:

Jesus continues talking to those he is sending out. This time he tells them to travel lightly. In fact, it almost sounds like they aren’t to take anything at all. Furthermore, when they see people it seems they are to be rude to them by continuing on to their destination, ignoring any greetings given. But this isn’t quite the case.

Those being sent out into the harvest have what they need. They have the Lord Jesus for protection and all the material needs required. They will be supplied with all they need while out in the harvest, nothing more is needed. What they have in their wallets is sufficient, their bag and shoes are good enough, and those they meet may well hold them up as they head out to the field.

As God calls those to be workers in the harvest it is important to understand the importance of travelling lightly. There is a need to let go of comfort and not to be weighed down by the materialism, consumerism, and security that surrounds us today. Just as it is easier to get through an airport terminal when only having carry-on luggage, so too it is easier for the workers of the harvest to keep things simple and take very little on their journey. They are to leave behind that which binds them, which holds them up, which stops them from moving forward. They are to continue to share the message of the Kingdom to those in their influence.

This not only speaks of the physical and material lightness required in mission but also the openness we have in our weeks and relationships. There is much that holds us up from sharing the message of the Kingdom, nothing more so than weeks filled with activities and appointments. There is something to be said about giving space in our weeks so we can be open to how God is leading and moving in our lives. More directly, the more intentional we are about leaving behind that which binds will mean we are more open to see God move and have the space to respond to His leading. This might mean that we have the freedom to find new ways of building relationships. It may mean we have more energy to be hospitable. It may mean we find ourselves drawn closer to Jesus and his mission because we are open to seeing how he will use us to build the Kingdom.

There will always be people who wish to talk and seek to be helpful for the workers of the Kingdom. Eastern culture is a hospitable culture and a culture that includes many greetings and customs. These can hold the workers up if they are to greet every person they meet along the way. Instead, Jesus encourages them to be so focussed on the harvest that they spend no time worrying about the custom of greetings in their society. They are not to get distracted in these things. Refusing hospitality from their own people is not looked upon fondly, but Jesus directs his workers to get on with the task of sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom and make it a priority.

Rather than being drawn into these meaningless greetings followers of Jesus are to build authentic relationships with people. Over time these greetings become meaningless because they aren’t said with intention, it’s just what people do when they see each other. On the other hand, authentic relationships are to be built, and through these friendships the sharing of the Good News can be told in conversation or seen through actions of hospitality and care.

Ask Yourself:

  • When Jesus sends his workers out into the harvest field he gives them all that they require. Are you trusting that Jesus has equipped you in your ministry right now?
  • Being a harvester requires us to carry little. What do you need to lay aside in order to walk more lightly as a pilgrim of Jesus?
  • There is much to distract us from the mission God has given us. Is there anything distracting you from being in the harvest field right now? What can you do to change that?

Take A Step:

  1. Spend some time in prayer thanking God for the gifts he has given you and the way he continues to equip you.
  2. Write down three things in your life that is holding you up in your relationship with Jesus. Lift them up in prayer and give them over to God.
  3. What is distracting you from being involved in God’s harvest? Talk to someone who can help you be involved in ministry in your neighbourhood more easily.

Published: Theological Reflection In Training For Youth Ministry

It was only a little over a week ago I wrote about the impact my Master of Divinity studies had on my training for youth ministry. I outlined four points about how my theological education has prepared and impacted my role as a youth and young adult pastor. However, there was really a fifth point. And that fifth point became a whole post, recently published on Tim Gough’s Youth Work Hacks as a follow-up piece

In this post I flesh out how the theological education I received has helped in applying theologically reflective practice into the ministry. This means, looking out for where God seems to be moving and asking the question of what He is doing amongst the local believers. Sometimes this may sound foreign to people, particularly in youth ministry, because it’s not taught or explored very often. But, I think it is actually the most important of the five points across the two articles.

“Theological reflection, the idea of being able to reflect on our experiences in life and ministry through the lens of faith, can often go missing in youth ministry. It takes effort to stop, think, and articulate what God might be doing within our own lives, let alone through the ministry we might be involved in. We can find ourselves more focused on ‘doing the program’, or ‘getting the task done’, than taking the time to reflect on the ways God seems to be working in our midst.”

You can read the whole thing here.

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Published: 5 Advantages of Gospel Centred Youth Ministry

It’s very pleasing to have had another post about youth ministry published on The Gospel Coalition.

This time I’m written about what I see as the advantages to a gospel-centred approach in youth ministry. It seems odd this even needs to be said. And using the phrase ‘gospel-centred’ when everyone else uses it beings to lose its meaning. Nevertheless, it was a good reminder to write these five points, and I would like to believe it all holds true.

Hope you enjoy it.

You can find it here.

“I can’t help but reflect on the hundreds of teenagers I’ve been privileged to teach and shepherd through the years. Some have stuck with faith and the church. Others dropped off, never to be seen of again.

Without the gospel and an understanding of God’s guiding sovereign hand in this work, I wouldn’t have survived this long. Thankfully, the growing is God’s and the sustaining is God’s—and yet we have the privilege of being a small part of this work through a gospel-centered youth ministry.”

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You can view the whole thing here.

You can read other published articles here.

A Sent People – Part 1: The Abundant Harvest

This is part one of a 5-part devotional series based on Luke 10:1-12. It includes the reading of Scripture, considering its teaching, asking questions of ourselves for reflection, and applying it in practical ways. Enjoy. 


Part 1: The Abundant Harvest

Passage: Luke 10:1-3

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go your way; behold I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves”.

A Sent People - Part 1_ The Abundant Harvest

Consider:

As Jesus commissions his followers to take the Kingdom of God to the towns and villages in the region he begins by explaining what is before them. They are few, but those who need to hear this message are many. Jesus himself will follow the labourers but these labourers are an important part of the Kingdom of God. They are people sent by Jesus himself.

Jesus uses the farming imagery of a harvest, where there is plenty of work to do yet there are not many followers. Few followers of Jesus are willing to be harvesters. At the end of Luke 9 Jesus talks of the difficulty it is to be a follower of Jesus. There is a cost to following Him. One of those costs will include being part of a small group who intentional speak the message of the Kingdom to those who do not know him. This could also be seen as a privilege.

Recognising this dilemma Jesus calls on the 72 to pray to the Lord of the harvest for more workers. There is always a need for more people to take up their cross and become harvesters for the Lord. There is always more need for people to share the message of Jesus with others and be part of helping them come to know the Lord. It is people that Jesus encourages these workers to pray for. It is people who God uses to help bring others to an understanding of who Jesus is and what is involved in His Kingdom. The Lord has his hand over the harvest, he knows them and will call them to Himself, and he uses his followers to help achieve this calling.

Linked to this cost of following Jesus is the reality in which the workers find themselves in. Those who come to work for the Lord and seek to be harvesters will be walking into difficulty. This time Jesus uses the imagery of lambs being among wolves. Lambs are creatures without much protection, they can’t protect themselves but need a shepherd to take care of them. They are followers yet can’t look after themselves when danger is around. Wolves on the other hand search and are on the lookout to catch a lamb and devour it. A follower of Jesus sent into the harvest is like a lamb, protected by Jesus the True Shepherd, being chased and harassed by those who seek to have them devoured. They are in a vulnerable position and will be relying on the protection of the Lord as they seek to share the message of the Kingdom.

Ask Yourself:

  • Jesus sends believers out. Following Jesus requires stepping out into the wider community and witnessing to the Kingdom of God. In what areas of your community are you being a witness?
  • There is a desperate need for people to commit to being a worker in the harvest. Is the Lord calling you to be a full-time worker?
  • More workers for the harvest should be on our prayer list. God wants us to pray for people to take up the task of working for the Kingdom. Can you pray for more workers?
  • Those already in the harvest working are in a vulnerable position. Pray for those you know who are currently working at sharing the Gospel. They are in need of our prayers.

Take A Step:

  1. Spend some time in prayer, ask God what part of the harvest you are called to be part of?
  2. Find out what missionaries your church supports, spend 10 minutes this coming week praying for them as they work in the harvest.
  3. Ask someone in your congregation that has experience in being a worker for the Lord. What was their experience in being sent out into the harvest? What were the challenges for them as they served God in this way?

Published: You’re Not Wasting Your Degree In Youth Ministry

A little while back Tim Gough of YouthWorkHacks.com wrote a couple of posts encouraging greater training for those in youth ministry. The first, ‘Why Train For Ministry?‘, gives a number of bullet point-like sentences on how training can help in the formation and learning of a youth pastor. The second, ‘How To Pick A Youth Ministry Training Course?‘, gives a brief framework on what to think about when considering a course for further youth ministry study.

I enjoyed reading both pieces, which made me reflect on how my Master of Divinity studies have helped me in the youth and young adult ministry I’ve found myself. I was inspired so much that I ended up writing a guest post which Tim posted recently.

You can read it here.

“I have found, possibly because of my education, that I am not viewed solely as the Youth Pastor but as one of the pastoral team. This could be unique to my church of course, but I suspect that because of the wider training I have, I can be a voice and make respected theological contributions to conversations the church is having. There is a sureness in my thinking and preaching because I am able to wrestle and converse with various aspects of Scripture. I’m not just seen as the guy who can run a good game of dodgeball and deliver a sex talk when needed.”

You can access other guest posts I’ve had published here.

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Youth Ministry With The Training Wheels Off

On the outside basketball court, just down the road from where we live, we spent time as a family helping our eldest daughter with her bike riding. For a few hours we were focussed on helping her with her coordination, pedalling, steering, and balance as she learnt to ride a bike without training wheels.

Youth Ministry With The Training Wheels Off

It quickly became clear that this was the right time to do such an activity; she soon became a duck to water and was riding around too fast and confidently for her parents liking. At times she was overconfident, which resulted in a couple of crashes. But generally, she moved from training wheels to the two-wheeler without much trouble. It’s now time to keep the practice going so she continues to grow in confidence and skill.

If you’re involved in youth ministry I wonder whether it’s time for you to take the training wheels off?

What’s that mean, you ask?

Perhaps the following points might help that.

People Over Program

Starting out in youth ministry finds all leaders more concerned about the program than the people coming to said program. Every rookie leader I have seen is more worried and anxious about pulling together a good program than they are in building relationships with those in attendance.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Learning the ropes about how to put together and run some games, write and deliver a talk, lead a discussion group, understand the flow of the night, and be involved in set up and pack up are all important parts of youth ministry. It is natural, and far easier, to learn the skills that are associated with those kind of tasks than it is to learn the art of conversation and care. It’s far easier to deal with these task-orientated responsibilities than being intentional about relationship building.

A leader who takes their training wheels off will be one who begins to focus more on people over the program. They understand the relational connections with those who come along far outweigh whatever activities are happening on a particular night. Soon enough the programmatic nature of the ministry takes care of itself and conversations with leaders, parents, and students become the priority.

Character Over Competence

This, in reality, is a must at any stage.

From a personal point of view, this is the idea of working on one’s character over working on one’s competency. Competency can include all the planning and organisation ability, relational nature, program tasks, idea generation, and even leadership skills. Yet, if the character of the person is not something you want modelled by others then it is probably best to reassess the situation.

Someone who is taking the training wheels off in this regard will be intentional about their growth in character. In Galatians 5 we read a list of character traits, known as the ‘Fruits of the Spirit’, which are more worthy to be working on than any particular skill and ability. These include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Other character-forming virtues include, truthfulness, humility, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, and the like. It is these things that we seek to work on, be intentional about, and realise they all take a long time to grow within us.

At the end of the day, character trumps everything.

Initiative Over Instruction

So you’ve been involved in your church’s youth ministry for a while. You build relationships. You can run a good game. You can do a talk. What’s the next step?

Taking initiative.

And this isn’t just doing those things above without thinking, or seeing the need to do more of these things and going for it. While that’s great, and it is an example of taking initiative, there are other areas to begin to explore.

Taking initiative might look like:

  • beginning to think about how you can catch up with the one or two students after school.
  • sending a text or two during the week to encourage someone from the group.
  • asking a parent how you can pray for them and the family this coming week.
  • sharing a bible verse or thought to someone who God puts on your heart.
  • vacuuming the floor after the youth night is over without being asked.
  • getting to the event early and making sure you’re setting up and prepared.
  • writing an encouraging card to someone who you think needs it this week.
  • engaging with the strategy, vision, and big picture of how the youth ministry services others and the wider church.

Initiative is doing those things that you know are worthwhile and important without being asked. And while initiative includes doing all the tasks required to pull off a great youth event, it is again centred on people. It is beginning to think and act in a way that actually ministers to people, not just performing a task.

I wonder how you operate? Do you still have your training wheels on?

Is it time to take them off?

Chicken Nuggets or Gospel Nuggets

Every now and then I like to spoil my four-year-old daughter by taking her out for fast food. Her food of choice is usually chicken nuggets. You know, those small morsels of processed chicken enveloped in a thin batter. If she’s hungry enough she’ll eat six in one sitting.

These little pieces of chicken are called nuggets because they’re small enough to eat quickly and they temporarily satisfy our hunger. Unlike a large piece of chicken, where we might need to use a knife and fork, chicken nuggets provide a quick go to for food.

Throughout the New Testament, either in the Gospels or in the Letters of Paul and Peter and John, we can find gospel nuggets. These are bite-size pieces of the Good News that remind us of who God is and what he has done in Jesus. Unlike chicken nuggets these are easily digestible and all-satisfying truths of the Christian faith.

One such nugget I came across recently is from Titus 3:3-7. It reads:

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

In reading this I am reminded of the position I used to be in before knowing Jesus, and now the position I find myself in because of Jesus.

Formerly I was in a place that was foolish. In this position I sought to gain pleasure for myself, looking out solely for my own needs and wants. This leads down a path that is unhelpful and unhealthy. Seeking pleasure in the wrong place, and in pursuing wrongful passions, we end up being people who are prideful, egotistical, and self-centred.

Knowing the position we are in it is then revealed to us that through the love and kindness of God we can be rescued from this inwardly focussed life. Instead, through the mercy of God, we have been saved through Christ Jesus. We haven’t done anything to achieve such kindness and love but God has done it all. From one reality our eyes are opened to another reality. This new reality understands that through the Spirit our hearts have been changed and we have been rescued from our own selfishness.

Because of this we are (1) included into God’s family, (2) made right with God, (3) have an inheritance given to us from God, and (4) our hope is put into perspective because of eternity with God.

That is four gifts that God has freely given to us because of his kindness, love, and mercy.

What an amazing gift!

  • As you ponder your own position with God have you come to understand the gifts God seeks to give you?
  • As you dwell on this gospel-nugget can you see the all-satisfying grace of God?

As you go about your day today, take this gospel-nugget and chew on it. Digest it. Understand it. And may it nourish you in a way that no fast food outlet can.


This post was originally published elsewhere on the interwebs but is no longer available.

Published: The Stories Behind The Stories

The surface level small talk and the triviality of much of life, thanks to social media and the busyness of life, makes it hard to take time and listen to others. Recently I’ve been pondering this, particularly after observing the way people around me use social media and their devices. My ponderings made it into an article, which was then published on TGCA.

“Often it takes something significant to disrupt our regular practices and habits. The other week I had two funerals to attend. If there is ever something that will disrupt us, get us looking up and out from ourselves, then memorial services for the dead are the way to do it. For there in front of us is the reality of life and death. There before us is the end. And reflecting on the end can jolt us back into what really is reality.

Our social media stories give us a picture of a life in front of us. And however momentary this picture is, it depicts a false reality. For behind that picture is a person, and in that person is a heart, and in that heart is the desire of things greater than can be captured by a phone.”

You can read the whole thing here.

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You can read more of my recent publications here.

Published: Fighting for the Joy of Our Students

For many of us there is the daily fight for joy, to find something to be joyful about in our day-to-day and week-by-week existence. As youth ministry leaders we also have the opportunity to fight for joy for those in our church and youth group. In fact, given the pressures on teenagers, and the ever-increasing stress and anxiety rising within the generations, we can play a part in fighting for their joy too.

With this in mind, I have written a piece that’s been published on Rooted Ministry. You can read the whole thing here.

“How often and how easy it is to lose heart. A dysfunction in the family. A relationship breakdown. A disagreement with friends. An unexpected medical result. Whatever it might be for us and our students, we are called to fix our eyes upon Jesus. Through stories of believers of long ago, we are given examples of faithful people persevering to the end. But in Jesus we find something greater, an everlasting joy that is gifted to us through the work of the cross. As we seek to take hold of this joy for ourselves we also call others to do the same. For our students, the teenagers in our churches and in our homes, we call them to come and take hold of this joy.”

Other pieces published elsewhere can be found here.

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God’s Love Expressed: Through Our Love For One-Another

In the passage 1 John 4:7-21 the beginning and the end command us to love one-another.

It’s like a love one-another sandwich.

In v7-8 it reads,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

And v21 says,

“And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.”

Whether there is an issue within the churches John is writing to, I’m not sure. But he certainly makes it clear that loving one-another in an important part of what it means to be in community together.

Because love has come from God we are to love one-another.

To love one-another is an expression of what it means to love God; a visible expression of God being a God of love.

God's Love Expressed Through Our Love For One-Another

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find churches who have within their history periods of time where loving one-another is lacking.

But a church devoid of love is like a tap without water.

A church devoid of love is like a football team without players.

A church devoid of love is like an orchestra without its conductor.

A church devoid of love is like cushion without stuffing.

A church devoid of love is like a car tyre without air.

A church without love is an unmitigated disaster.

And I wonder whether John would suggest they are really a church at all.

In his book, ‘The Compelling Community’, Mark Dever writes,

“To follow Christ is to love other Christians…Love between believers isn’t a sign of maturity; it’s a sign of saving faith.” (Dever, 52)

And John seems to suggest this here in our passage. The church, when loving one-another, show they are people who truly believe in the Lord Jesus, acknowledge his saving grace, and understand his atoning sacrifice for sin.

We may know these truths individually and personally. But, we should also see and know it together as a community, as a church.

Love between believers is the sign of a faith that is grounded in Christ and confirmed by the Holy Spirit.

In the same book, Dever says,

“Our greatest confirmation of the gospel is the community of the local church. Therefore, our best strategy for reaching the world is to fan that community into a raging inferno of supernatural witness that will be far more attractive than any adjustment to our music, small groups, or sermons could ever be.” (Dever, 192)

The love of one-another within the local church is what is attractive to others. It is the love of one-another that stands out to visitors and non-believers. It feeds into the mission and evangelistic edge of the church that we are called to be part of.

As Jesus meets with his disciples for the last time before his death he says these words in John’s Gospel, 13:34-35,

““I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

And in Romans 12:10, Paul writes,

“Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Out do one another in showing honour.”

Through the love we have for one-another people see the gospel worked out in practice as we build one-another up through love.

When a local church is going through hardship, significant conflict and disagreement, there will often be less people drawn to the church. The effect of a church lacking in love will mean that there are less new people coming along and less people turning to Christ. On the other hand, when a church displays love for one-another the love of Christ is displayed for all to see. It can be seen and felt within the church itself and draws people in.

It is through our love for one-another in our church that expresses the love God has for us.

In my previous blog post I started by talking about the movie Frozen. How Anna can only be saved by an expression of true love.

We too can only be saved by an expression of true love. This expression of true love is God sending his Son Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sin. Through the cross God expresses his saving love for us. And building on this, we too can be part of God expressing his love for others by the way we love one-another in our church.